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Ladder Is High, Women Keep Climbing

Jack Bowers By

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Unlike college sports, there is no Title IX program for women in jazz. Those who wish to pursue that line of endeavor have to elbow their way into what remains essentially a male-dominated profession (or art) and keep climbing the ladder one rung at a time. True, women have made notable inroads in recent years and are no longer looked upon as simply "band singers," as they once were; but their numbers remain woefully small, even though their talent on a wide range of instruments can no longer be denied. There are even all-female big bands that can hold their own in any company, the most conspicuous of which is the New York City-based ensemble DIVA, led by the excellent drummer Sherrie Maricle. On the US West Coast there is, among others, the Montclair (CA) Women's Big Band, co-led by Jean Fineberg and Ellen Seeling, which brings us to the point of this brief essay.

Not only does the Montclair WJO espouse a high standard of musicianship, it believes in sharing its expertise and artistry with the next generation, hence its involvement each year for the past four in the Jazzschool Girls' Jazz & Blues Camp for girls in grades 6-12, apparently the only summer jazz camp in the world for girls only with an all-woman faculty. The week-long camp is being held this month at the Jazzschool in Berkeley, founded in 1997 by Susan Muscarella who serves as executive director as well as president and dean of the Jazzschool Institute. The goals for the Jazz & Blues Camp are admirable: to provide a supportive atmosphere in which young female musicians can hone their musical skills; to encourage friendships among young female musicians; and to foster enhanced self-esteem and confidence. Some of these girls may be the Regina Carters, Esperanza Spaldings, Terri Lyne Carringtons, Diana Kralls, Claire Dalys, Anat Cohens and Maria Schneiders of tomorrow. Anyone who has been lucky enough to see and / or hear today's world-class female musicians will no doubt applaud the Jazzschool's camp for introducing another generation of young women to the beauty and wonders "America's classical music."

Speaking of Women in Jazz...

A number of women placed high in the 60th annual Critics' Poll, which appears in the August issue of DownBeat magazine including Nicole Mitchell, who won as best flutist, and Schneider, best composer, arranger and big band. Anat Cohen was named best clarinetist, placed fifth on soprano sax and fourteenth on tenor, while Jane Ira Bloom earned second place behind Branford Marsalis on soprano. Spalding won a third-place vote on acoustic bass, was second behind Christian McBride on electric bass, and placed third behind Vijay Iyer and Robert Glasper as Jazz Artist of the Year. On the other hand, I've heard Spalding sing and am frankly puzzled by her third-place finish among female vocalists, trailing Cassandra Wilson and Gretchen Parlato but ahead of Dianne Reeves, Dee Dee Bridgewater, Tierney Sutton, Karrin Allyson, Krall, Roberta Gambarini and others. Carter earned the nod as best violinist, Ingrid Jensen was in tenth place on trumpet, Mary Halvorson fourth on guitar, Jane Bunnett eighth on soprano and sixth on flute, Daly fifth on baritone, Geri Allen eleventh on piano, Hiromi ninth on keyboard, Amina Claudine Myers eighth, Barbara Dennerlein tenth and Rhoda Scott twelfth on organ, Marilyn Mazur tenth on percussion. Carla Bley placed twelfth among composers, fifteenth among arrangers.

Halvorson, Hiromi and Parlato were listed among the rising stars, Tineke Postma likewise on soprano and alto sax, Tia Fuller on alto sax and flute, Grace Kelly and Sharel Cassity on alto, Cohen on tenor, Lauren Sevian on baritone, Ali Ryerson and Holly Hoffman on flute, Helen Sung on piano, Hiromi on piano and keyboard, Patrice Rushen on keyboard, Dennerlein, Myers and Rhoda Scott on organ, Halvorson on guitar, Linda Oh on bass, Carla Dihlstedt, Mary Oliver and Susie Hansen on violin, Allison Miller on drums, Peggy Lee (cello) on miscellaneous instrument, Satoko Fujii as composer, Chie Imaizumi as arranger. Still largely outnumbered by the men but gaining ground rapidly.

And that's it for now. Until next time, keep swingin.'..!

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